A Baseball Glove

(via Sean Winters)

A burning chill flew through Paco’s back. It felt like a thousand-volt discharge had demolished his bones. He often had intense differences with Roberta, but this was different. Sure, he understood the economic reality of the country could lead you to do unthinkable things, but this really filled Paco’s face with a very deep reddish stain.

“Come on, Roberta, you don’t exchange the baseball glove a father gave to his son as a family relic for a refrigerator. Yes, I know what a refrigerator costs. I know we maybe won’t get another chance to get a fridge. But have you imagined how Miguelin would will react?”

Roberta closed her eyes and breathed deeply. She wanted to give a steady answer, with a soft voice, even with some a trace of a smile. “Yes, I know how he would feel and also know we need that fridge to store food.”

Paco got quiet. He didn’t know what to say or do. The images of that morning when Miguel opened the front door and called him remained vivid in his mind. He couldn’t believe what Miguel was taking out from the box. “A baseball glove! A third baseman’s baseball glove! Are you sure this is for me, Dad?”

Paco wasn’t doing well lately at school, and Martina had threatened him with eliminating his playing time outdoors. After a brief quarrel, Miguel promised Martina if Paco didn’t improve his grades, he would take the glove and return it to the store. What had most impressed Paco was the signature on the center of the glove. Brooks Robinson — yes, the great third baseman, the human vacuum, the one who won the 1970 World Series for the Baltimore Orioles. No matter that it wasn’t a signature from the hand of Robinson. At least it had been reproduced from the original, and that was invaluable for a 10-year-old kid. Since that day, Paco had studied every day after coming home from school.

Even when Roberta knew she had to exchange the glove for the fridge, she didn’t know what to say to Miguelín when the moment came. She asked for some advice from Paco. But it wasn’t so easy. There were a lot of sentimental moments linked to that glove.

The boy didn’t say a word when Roberta told him about exchanging his baseball glove for a fridge. He just dropped his head and left the kitchen. Roberta tried to explain she understood what the glove meant to him and to his father, but he had to understand these were hard times. They didn’t have a fridge, and what food they could get would go rotten if they didn’t refrigerate it. Miguelin’s facial expression demonstrated his agreement, but he still went to his room and remained isolated for the last of the afternoon.

At seven o’clock in the evening, Paco finally could get into Miguelin’s room. He asked for the glove, and Miguelin didn’t say a word. Then Paco recalled that time he told Miguel he wanted to have the real Brooks Robinson signature on the glove’s leather. Miguel told him that was going to be a difficult task, but he would try. He wrote to the letters section of the magazine Sport Gráfico.

The next week, Sport Gráfico answered Paco: “Dear Mr. Miguel: We can try asking Mr. Luis Aparicio to get Mr. Brooks Robinson’s signature on your glove, but we can’t promise the answer will be affirmative. As soon as we get Mr. Aparicio’s response, we will let you know.”

Paco got very sad. But Miguel told him not to be pessimistic, he was sure Luis Aparicio was going to talk to his friend Brooks Robinson.

Two weeks later, a letter arrived from the magazine. “Dear Mr. Miguel: Mr. Aparicio accepted to ask Mr. Robinson for the signature. Please send us the glove by mail, and we will send it to Mr. Aparicio.” Paco worried that the glove could get lost or changed — and that was his magic glove. When Miguel said that was it, Paco gave him the glove, and that same afternoon they went to the post office and sent it to Sport Gráfico magazine.

The magazine’s director called Miguel and told him he had the glove signed by Brooks Robinson and Luis Aparicio, but he wanted to ask for a favor. Aparicio wanted to meet the kid who owned the glove, so they had arranged for a ceremony before the first game Aparicio would play in the next Venezuelan winter season.

Paco couldn’t sleep well for the next two months until the start of the season. Each night, he dreamed he was the second baseman for the Baltimore Orioles where Aparicio was the shortstop and Robinson the third baseman. Each morning, Miguel had to convince him to stop talking because he was going to be too distracted in his classes at school.

The night of the ceremony, Paco couldn’t talk. All he did was show his agreement with a nod of his chin. The greatest moment of all came  when Aparicio played catch with him around second base and even simulated a double play. Aparicio made some suggestions about how he had to catch the ball while coming to the base or how he had to throw the ball while throwing from shallow right field or from any place close to first base.

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When the ceremony ended, Miguel kept looking at Paco with that piercing gaze that showed he was doing something wrong. Then Paco talked to Aparicio: “Many thanks, Mr. Aparicio. I’ll never forget all you have done. I really enjoyed playing with you as your double pay partner…”

***

Paco sat down on the bed and looked at Miguelin’s eyes. “If you don’t want, you don’t have to give your glove.”

Miguelin got up and went to the window. “I know this is a very hard situation. Maybe this is our last chance to get a fridge. As this economic crisis goes on, maybe tomorrow we won’t be able to get the fridge even by offering the baseball glove.”

As Paco watched the tears running down Miguelín’s cheeks, it was inevitable he would recall the evening at the Estadio Universitario when he met third baseman Dámaso Blanco, his favorite ballplayer. Miguelín asked Dámaso how he played so close to home when there was the probability of the batter bunting but at the same time the manager could change the sign to hit hard. “How do you adjust so quickly?”

Dámaso didn’t expect that question from a 10-year-old kid. So after some seconds in silence, he said, “Well, it just reflexes, practice, and knowing the game and your rivals in each situation.”

Then Miguelin asked how Dámaso could dive to catch line drives down the left-field line that seemed destined to be doubles or triples. Dámaso smiled and looked to deep center field. “Before each delivery, you have to prepare for the worst, which could be a line drive straight to your face, a spinning grounder, or an invisible shot right on the line. So when the hitter comes in and smacks the ball, you just have to do what you planned in your mind.”

Miguelin looked at Dámaso’s hands as he moved them in his explanation. He asked another question, and Dámaso was very flattered. “Come on, Miguelin, I was at least two steps behind Brooks Robinson and Luis Aparicio. I was never in the same league with them.” As Miguelin began to give his reasons why Dámaso was as good at third base as Robinson and at shortstop as Aparicio, Paco made some signs to him, indicating the game was going to start and Dámaso had to go back to the broadcasting booth. Miguelín dropped his head on his chest and walked to Paco.

Around the sixth inning, Dámaso came down from the press box and told Miguelín to bring his glove to the next game he would be attending at the Estadio Universitario. Paco had to take Miguelin by his shoulders and control him until sitting him down. “Do you see, Dad? Dámaso Blanco is going to sign my glove! My favorite third baseman is going to sign my glove!”

The next morning, Miguelin found Roberta very sad at the kitchen. The mice had eaten the chicken legs she had left close to the stove. “Those animals are really criminal. They didn’t care I stored the chicken leg under water in that pan.”

Miguelín almost stopped breathing. He had listened to many family conversations in which Paco said his salary didn’t wasn’t even enough to buy bread. He had to look for freelance jobs, or some help from his friends working outside the country, to try to survive. But the economic situation kept getting worse. Inflation was at 14,000 percent, so each time those freelance jobs were harder to find, and Paco couldn’t be bothering his friends constantly.

Miguelin ran to his bedroom and took his glove out from under the mattress. Two tears landed on the webbing of the glove. He couldn’t avoid remembering the morning Paco opened the bedroom door and told him he had a surprise. Miguelin got a little worried because sometimes those surprises meant he had to study math for an hour straight or mow the lawn.

This time Paco sat down on the bed and told him he was going to pass him the baton he had received from Miguel. Miguelín thought about a watch or a compass. He almost fell off the bed when he saw that big brown leather glove Paco took out from his back.

“Are you sure this is now mine? The glove with the signatures of Brooks Robinson and Luis Aparicio is mine? Come on, Dad, you must be pulling my leg.” Miguelin began to believe it was true when Paco took an old yellowish piece of paper from his shirt pocket. It was the invoice, handwritten, for the purchase of the glove. It had been the gift Miguel had bought him after sixth grade.

That night at the stadium, before signing the glove, Dámaso Blanco asked Miguelín to be his guest on the pregame for the radio broadcast where he worked. At first Miguelín was scared because he had never spoken on radio. Then Paco told him he had to give Dámaso something in return. In a second, Miguelin understood he wasn’t going to lose the chance of getting Dámaso’s signature on his glove. Not everybody gets that opportunity. So he swallowed his fears and began to answer Dámaso’s questions. In the end, it seemed as if Miguelin was the interviewer, so Dámaso told him with a smile, “Well, let’s stop it here. I could lose my job with you.”

In the morning, as he listened to talk downtown, Miguelin didn’t think about it anymore and ran to his bedroom. Those two guys talked about the same topic he had listened all around the city; the local currency was going to devalue each time more and more. Miguelin knew maybe very soon it would be impossible to get a fridge in exchange it for his baseball glove. So he took the glove and handed it to Roberta.

“But son, that glove has significant sentimental meaning for you and your father!” Miguelin put the glove on Roberta’s hand. “Yes, but I know we need that fridge to survive, to store half the meal of one day for the next one.”

Paco was paralyzed as he came in the kitchen. He couldn’t forget that afternoon, when he watched Miguelin from behind the jabillo tree. Miguelin put a piece of cardboard in the middle of the back yard, put on his glove and simulated playing parallel to third base, then he came forward and then threw his body backwards to get a line drive behind third base.


Alfonso L. Tusa is a chemical technician and writer from Venezuela. His work has been featured in El Nacional, Norma Editorial and the Society for American Baseball Research, where he has contributed to several books and published several entries for the SABR Bio Project. He has written several novellas and books and contributed to others, including Voces de Beisbol y Ecología and Pensando en tí Venezuela. Una biografía de Dámaso Blanco. Follow him on Twitter @natural30.
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Mean Mr. Mustard
Member
Mean Mr. Mustard

I believe that the best compliment I can give to you, Mr. Tusa, is that it startled me how easily my mind’s eye put me in this life, so real that I could smell the sweat and grease of the glove, feel the sting of tiny pebbles and dust particles from the breeze stirring up the infield. I asked my childhood heroes questions that I’d never heard asked or answered and struggled with the desperate calculus of emotion versus logic.

Thank you.

Dennis Bedard
Member
Dennis Bedard

“the sweat and grease of the glove. . .” I remember my first catcher’s mitt my father got me around 1967. I bought a jar of nisfeed (ph?) oil to lubricate the padding. It had a unique odor that was a cross between exhaust fumes and Turtle Wax.

Mean Mr. Mustard
Member
Mean Mr. Mustard

Possibly linseed? Or maybe something that’s no longer around.
Either way, thanks for the anecdote. My own anecdon’t is that I used Crisco. It went rancid, of course, in the Texas heat.

kds
Member
Member
kds

Neatsfoot oil, it’s still around, I just googled it. My brother and I used it starting in the early 1960’s.

Dennis Bedard
Member
Dennis Bedard

thanks kds. Neatsfoot oil, baseball gloves, and now I am having memories of that 2d grade teacher I had a crush on!

Mean Mr. Mustard
Member
Mean Mr. Mustard

Ah, neatsfoot. I’d only ever heard of it being used medicinally. Thanks!